Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sabrina Ionescu (r.) was the face of what has become a powerhouse women’s hoops program at Oregon.
Sabrina Ionescu (r.) was the face of what has become a powerhouse women’s hoops program at Oregon.
Photo: Getty

Oregon’s former floor general, Sabrina Ionescu, has become the face of women’s college basketball. Deservedly so, from the shifty way she slices and dices defenses to her Kobe Bryant-esque approach to the game and her acknowledgement of the bond they shared.

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Ionescu is the reason Oregon women’s basketball has become a hot commodity the past two seasons for basketball lovers such as myself, but on Friday night, she won’t be the only Duck in the spotlight during the WNBA draft.

Satou Sabally, a German small forward, has revolutionized post play. She has a full array of skills.

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If you’ve watched Sabally play, there is no way you would assume that she was 6-foot-4. She spaces the floor better than many guards, and she has one of the best jumpers I’ve seen in the women’s game from a player taller than 6 feet.

Ionescu and Sabally are projected to go first and second overall, with another Ducks starter, forward Ruthy Hebard, expected to go in the top 10. If that happens, Oregon would join South Carolina (2017), UConn (2016 and 2018), and Tennessee (2012) as the only schools to have three players taken in the top 10 in the league’s 23-year history.

Many teams drafting in the top 10 are looking for size and skill up front, and Sabally and Hebard fit that criteria. Unfortunately, we might have to wait an entire year to see any of these young stars on the court in their new roles because of the coronavirus pandemic. League officials postponed the start of the WNBA season earlier this month. A new date has yet to be determined.

But when the Oregon stars are finally able to start their respective rookie campaigns, there will be plenty to look forward to — but it also raises questions about the future of the Oregon program.

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Last season, the trio led the No. 2 Ducks to the Final Four before being knocked out by the overall No.1 seed, Baylor. After that loss, college basketball was put on high alert that yes, Ionescu is a once-in-a generation player — she leads the NCAA in career triple-doubles for men and women — but there is more talent on that roster than initially thought.

Ionescu led the Ducks in scoring and assists per game this season just ahead of Hebard and Sabally, respectively, which no doubt means the program will face a considerable loss, but their 2020 recruiting class is ranked No.1, according to ESPN.

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The thing that makes me think Oregon’s program is not a fluke and that the Ducks will become a force in the women’s college game is their ability to recruit. Both Hebard and Sabally didn’t grow up in traditional hotbeds for basketball talent. Hebard, a product of Alaska, was a five-star recruit and ranked in ESPN’s top 40 players for the class of 2016, but she didn’t receive a scholarship offer from powerhouses such as UConn, Baylor or Stanford.

Sabally was in a similar situation — five-star recruit, top-tier ranking in ESPN’s top 40 — but she was playing in Germany. That’s not even a hotbed for basketball talent in Europe, but Oregon had the recruiting ability to find her. And more shocking is there were no other Division 1 programs — aside from Oregon St. — according to her ESPN profile, that made her an offer.

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Kelly Grave, Oregon’s head coach, recruited all three stars two years after he took over the program in 2014. He has shown an ability to put together a group of players that push the program to new heights, but also elevate their individual games.

As disappointing as it was to not see this group compete for a National Championship this year, it’s pretty clear this will not be the last we see from Graves’ program.

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Oregon’s women’s basketball is coming.

Consider yourself warned when the dynasty hits.

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